Canada needs a sharper free-trade focus

The long-term success of Canada’s free-trade deals with regions outside of North America will depend on more than government handshakes and photo ops.

Companies and entrepreneurs in this traditionally conservative trading nation need to do the legwork required to open new markets to their products and services.

The long-winded but potentially game-changing Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), which formally rolled out of the starting gate this year, and the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), which has been up and running for more than a year, are major trade opportunities for Canada. But thus far, there is little evidence that entrepreneurs out our way are ready to take advantage of those opportunities.

Canadian companies remain largely focused on the United States, Canada’s biggest customer. That is understandable.

But with that customer governed by protectionist and erratic leadership, the trade diversification opportunity presented by the free-trade agreements with Asia and the European Union needs to be embraced now, regardless of its challenges. Remaining a U.S. dependant is not a sustainable business plan for Canada.

Breaking into new markets is hard work, but the payoffs – especially from the CPTPP – for B.C., which has a significant transpacific advantage over other parts of the country, promise to be huge. Consider, for example, that Asia is projected to have the world’s greatest growth potential over the next few decades and that open access to Japan, formerly free-trade averse but now a free-trade evangelist in the lead it took in pushing CPTPP negotiations, presents major market diversification opportunities for Canada.

Government has done its part in inserting the country’s foot in free-trade doors abroad; it’s time for Canada’s entrepreneurs to put their shoulders to those doors and establish the country as a North American leader in building business ties in emerging markets.